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A constructional history of the sash-window c. 1670–c.1725:: Part One: Industrial Organization

  • Hentie Louw and Robert Crayford


Since the topic of the sash-window was last addressed in this journal fourteen years ago by one of the authors it has had a surprisingly high public profile. Apart from the ongoing English Heritage and Georgian Group campaigns to promote the use and preservation of traditional sash-windows in historic buildings, several conservation courses in the country now provide for the study of the historic building crafts and their products, including wooden windows. In the Brooking Collection, based at Greenwich University, researchers and conservation practitioners have a valuable reference point for studying the development of historic building components in Britain. Sash-windows constitute the largest and most interesting part of this collection and have been the subject of successful touring exhibitions.



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1 Louw, H. J., ‘The Origin of the sash-window’, Architectural History, 26 (1983), pp. 4972 , hereafter referred to as Origin’.

2 Baggs, A. P., ‘The Earliest Sash-window in Britain?’, The Georgian Group Journal, VII (1997), pp. 168-71. An English Heritage internal report on this find is currently in preparation in advance of the window’s conservation and reinstatement.

3 For the evidence supporting this date see Louw, ‘Origin’, pp. 62–65.

4 The socio-technological factors related to the early history of the sash-window are discussed in detail in Louw, H. J., The Origin and Development of the Sash-window in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, with special reference to England (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Oxford University, 1981 , hereafter referred to as Origin & Development), pp. 50-173. See also, Louw, H., ‘Demarcation Disputes between the English Carpenters and Joiners from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries’, Construction History, 5 (1989), hereafter referred to as ‘Disputes’, pp. 3-20; Louw, H., ‘Window-glass making in Britain c. 1660-c. 1840, and its Architectural Impact’, Construction History, 7 (1991), pp. 4768 .

5 For a full discussion of this important development see, Louw, Origin & Development, pp. 66–84. An excellent series of publications with measured drawings of historic joinery from the period had been compiled by the Centre de Recherches sur les Monuments Historiques, Paris. See especially, vol. IV: Fenêtres (Menuiserie) à chassis coulissants (Paris, n.d.); for the Netherlands see, Janse, H., Vensters (Nijmegen, 1971), H. Janse, ‘Vensters met openslaande ramen in de tweede helft van de 17de eeuw’, Bulletin KNOB, Jg.77 afl.3/4 (1978), pp. 170-76.

6 For a well-illustrated overview of the varying classicizing trends and their impact on fenestration during the period immediately preceding the advent of the sash-window in England, see Mowl, T. and Earnshaw, B., Architecture without Kings: The Rise of Puritan Classicism under Cromwell (Manchester, 1995).

7 A series of seven windows on the first floor, north front, above the entrance. These windows of Type A2 have casements in the one half and sashes in the other. All details suggest a date of c. 1680 rather than early 18th century, the most likely candidate for builder being Judge Thomas Twisden, who retired to Bradbourne in 1679 and died in 1683. There is, however, no record of any building work at the house during the late seventeenth century.

8 For an illustrated analysis of this see, Louw, Origin & Development, passim.

9 H. M.Colvin, ‘The Practice of Architecture 1600-1840: The Building Trades’, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600–1840, (1995), pp. 21-28; Idem., ‘The Beginning of the Architectural Profession in Scotland’, Architectural History, 29 (1986), pp. 169–74; Dunbar, J. G., ‘The organisation of the building industry in Scotland during the 17th century’, Building Construction in Scotland: Some Historical & Regional Aspects, (Edinburgh/Dundee, 1976), pp. 7–15 .

10 E. B. Jupp, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of the City of London (1887), pp. 296, 301-02.

11 Louw, H., ‘Of “Ancient Rights and Priviledges”: Demarcation Disputes between the Companies of Joiners and Carpenters, Millwrights and Trunkmakers of Newcastle upon Tyne c. 1580–c. 1740’, Archaeologia Aelianae, 5th Ser. vol. XVII (1989), hereafter referred to as ‘Ancient Rights’, pp. 93-115.

12 The Newcastle Joiners’ Company, in the 1690s, relaxed their rules against the employment of foreigners specifically in order to attract metropolitan journeymen to teach them the latest techniques in woodworking, (Louw, Disputes, p. 13), and in May 1702 a Newcasde joiner was granted the freedom to work in the London Liberties, a very unusual step for the period (Louw, ‘Ancient Rights’, p. 100). For a Scotttish example see below note 68.

13 Northants. Record Office, Cat. 15B/45. Information from H. M. Colvin.

14 Chancery suit of 1692/4. PRO.C.7/210/8 & 27. Sir James Smith et al. vs. James Friend, Builder. Contract for 13 houses 1686, left unfinished in 1688 when materials, including prefabricated sash-windows were surreptitiously removed from site. Information from Frank Kelsall. Sir John Summerson (Georgian London, 3rd Ed., 1978, p. 49) concludes that these housing schemes still had cross windows, but there were obviously exceptions.

15 Montgomery, C. F., ‘Thomas Banister on the New Sash Windows, Boston, 1701’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 24 (1965), pp. 169-70.

16 H. W. Robinson and W. Adams, The Diary of Robert Hooke, 1672-80 (1935), pp. 446-47.

17 H. M. Colvin, ‘Robert Hooke and Ramsbury Manor’, Country Life, 23 January 1975, p. 195.

18 Letter Books, 1st Baron Ashburnham, Ashburnham MSS, Sussex County Record Office, Lewes, Sussex. Cat. no. 4463. Information from John Bold.

19 Thirty-eight chests of ‘Shaush window’ and four chests of window glass arrived via Spalding and Stamford on 29 August 1698; ten more chests and four cases of glass on 23 November. Finch Papers, Leicestershire Record Office. Building Accounts Burley-on-the-Hill. Cat. No. DG7/1/128, vol. 3 fols. GG. 13, 18. Miss Pearl Finch, in her History of Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland (1901), p. 57, quotes an extract from an undated contract document between Lord Nottingham and the carpenter Matthew May, which required the latter to: ‘… saw sett make and sett Sash Storys at Burleigh at seven shillings for each frame [and to] make sashes for all the Windows of the best Wainscott of one inch and three quarters square according to the Modell thereof given and shall find the said Wainscott and also the best lines and Pulleys of four inches diameter with brass collars and iron pieces and also such like lines and Pulleys for opening and shutting the same, and cast and make the weights at one shilling and sixpence the square foot the said Earl finding the lead’.

20 Ashburnham MSS 4463.

21 Ibid.

22 On this see especially Colvin, H. M.,(ed.), The History of the King’s Works, v: 16601782 (1976), Part 1, Chapters 1–3.

23 Louw, Origin, pp. 60-61; King’s Works, v:254-59.

24 King’s Works, v:23 3-35.

25 Ibid., p. 318 n.3.

26 PRO, Office of Works Accounts, 5/38, hereafter referred to as Works.

27 Works, 5/10.

28 King’s Works, v:155.

29 Works, 5/27.

30 The Wren Society, VII:30-31, 59. The carpenter’s accounts for the building provides for 402 cross-windows on three floors, and there is a reference to casements being kept in a dry store. These would account for the bulk of the windows, but an entry, dated 21 October 1683, for ‘Joyners worke, Shasses, Glass, Ceilings, Painting, and Locks and Marbles for Chymnys and Pavings’, being stored elsewhere ‘towards the next yeare’s worke’(p. 57), suggests that some sashes were to be used in special locations.

31 See Wren Society, VII:86-134, for the accounts.These are not entirely complete. See also, Works 5/54.

32 Wren Society, VII:108.

33 Based on a comparison of a scale elevation/section of c. 1685 (Wren Society, VII, Plate XIIIb), with the accounts, especially the glazier’s bills.

34 Based on a comparison of partplan of chapel c. 1687 (King’s Works, v, plate 39B), with accounts, especially, Wren Society, VII: 105-06.

35 Wren Society, VII: 127.

36 Ibid., pp. 103, 105.

37 Works, 5/54.

38 Works, 19/48/1 ; Wren Society, VII:143-83.

39 Wren Society, IV:49.

40 King’s Works, v:162.

41 Wren Society, IV:49.

42 Ibid., 53.

43 In January 1699 Robert Streeter, Sergeant Painter was paid for a further ‘6 paper sashes oyled 14 ft by 5’ together with the painting of’26 large sashes: 32 lights in each … fronting the Private Garden [Privy Garden?] 15 ft high (Works, 5/50).

44 Wren Society, IV:57–58. For dating see King’s Works, v:162.

45 Ibid., p. 24, Pipe Roll 2:April 1691-March 1694. Pipe Roll 1, which covered the period., 1 April 1689-March 1691 included a further £919 5s. 11 d. for glass (Ibid., p. 21). The specimen accounts only mention one payment for William Ireland in 1691, which came to £75.

46 Works, 5/50.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid.

49 Works, 5/50, 5/53.

50 Wren Society, IV:62.

51 Works, 5/53. Information from Mr Gerald Heath.

52 King’s Works, v:109.

53 Ibid., p. 176.

54 North, Roger, Of Building, ed. Colvin, H. M. and Newman, J. (Oxford, 1981), p. 57 .

55 For an excellent overview of this see Dunbar, J. G., ‘The Building Activities of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale 1670–82’, Archaeological Journal, CXXXII (1976), pp. 202–30, hereafter referred to as ‘Lauderdale’.

56 The Ham Accounts, which are probably unique for this period outside the royal accounts, for the amount of detail they give on the building process, are with the rest of the Lauderdale papers in Buckminster, Leicestershire. (Tollemache Papers, Buckminster Estate, Leics. RCHM(1979), Cat. No. 648, hereafter referred to as Tollemache). Inspected by kind permission of Sir Lyonel Tollemache.

57 Tollemache 648. Items: 436, 438-43, 445–46. Note: the figure of 26 sash-windows previously given as the total for the Ham House extension (Louw, Origin, p. 64) did not take account of those in the side elevations.

58 Dunbar, ‘Lauderdale’, p. 208.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid., p. 219.

61 Ibid., p. 204.

62 Tollemache, 648, Item 645.

63 Ibid., Item 648.

64 Ibid. Undated, but identifiable as the work of the Dutch painter, Edward Kickius, who was employed at Thirlestane 1677-79. On him see,Dunbar, ‘Lauderdale’, p. 211 n.30.

65 Tollemache, 648, Item 649.

66 Dunbar, ‘Lauderdale’, pp. 211-12.

67 Information from John Dunbar: letter dated, 25 August 1676.

68 Idem. Considering the interest that the Duke and his architect, James Smith, displayed in Wren’s work, especially Hampton Court (on this see, J. Macaulay, The Classical Country House in Scotland 1660-1800, 1987, p. 36), the sashes in the latter building probably served as a model for Hamilton Palace as well.

69 Currently on display at Ham House in the ante-room to the library, together with the later Slezer view which curiously shows the south front with cross windows.

70 Tollemache, 648, Item 446. Viewer’s report by John James dated 16 June 1730. The relevant passage reads: ‘The Weather gets in under many of the Sills of the Windows, so as to have rotted the Wainscoting beneath ‘em, and there indeed requires a Repair of the Windows throughout the House; The Sashes being all unfit to Stand, and most of the other Lights requiring to be secured at their sills, and Transoms, where they now admit the Wet’.

71 V&A, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Collection, Cat. No. E432. 1-36. 1981. The relevant items are: 25-26.

72 Edited and published by Colvin, H. M. as ‘Letters and Papers relating to the Rebuilding of Combe Abbey, Warwickshire, 1681-1688’ in, Walpole Society, vol. L (1984), pp. 248–309 .

73 Ibid., Item 12, p. 265.

74 Ibid., Item 42, p. 276.

75 Ibid., Item 45, p. 277.

76 Ibid., Item 53, p. 281.

77 Ibid., Item 56, p. 282.

78 Ibid., Item 97, p. 301.

79 Ibid., Item 101, p. 308.

80 Ibid., Items 81 and 98, pp. 293 and 304-06.

81 Ibid., Item 84, pp. 295-96.

82 Ibid., Item 85, p. 296.

83 Montagu Papers, kept at Boughton House, Northants. Catalogue No. 100: three volumes of ‘Bills and Vouchers paid by the Executors of Duke Ralph 1712’, contain the building accounts related to Montagu House, Boughton and Ditton Park. Inspected by kind permission His Grace the Duke of Buccleugh.

84 Louw, Origin & Development, pp. 39-46.

85 Robinson & Adams, Diary, p. 194. Entry for 13 November 1675.

86 Ibid., p. 205. According to an entry in the Annals of the College of Physicians (kept in library of the Royal College of Physicians, London, hereafter referred to as Annals), the major rooms on the first floor of the central college building, in which the six sash-windows shown on the Loggan engraving of c. 1677 came into use on 25 February 1675 (Annals: IV, fol. IIIa, p. 172). These were probably installed by Roger Davis who was responsible for all the joinery in the building (Robinson & Adams, Diary, p. 122. Entry for 25 September 1674). Hooke, in his diary, noted that glazing was started on the new college building in September 1674, and on 4 December he passed the glazier’s bill (Robinson & Adams, Diary, pp. 122, 133). See also Batten, M. I., ‘The Architecture of Dr. Robert Hooke’, Walpole Society, xxv (1936-37), pp. 8990 ; Clark, G. N., A History of the Royal College of Physicians, London (Oxford, 1964), vol.1: 329-33.

87 Robinson & Adams, Diary, p. 215.

88 Ibid., p. 239.

89 Ibid., p. 268. Entry for 13 January 1676/7

90 Ibid., p. 382.

91 Hooke Diary, Guildhall Library, MSS. 1758, Entries for: 2 April, 19 June, 12-13 August 1681; 2 June, 5 August, 25 August 1682.

92 Phil Harris, the locksmith, was paid for ‘120 brass buttons for sashes at 1d p peice’, at Montagu House in January 1690, and again for ‘62 brass buttons for sashes … [and] … 4 gilt buttons ditto’, in July 1691 (Montagu Papers, vol.1, fols. 245, 249). At a maximum of two lifts per sash for Type B2, or four maximum for the A2 sash (two for each half), this provision was sufficient to cover most of the windows in the main building, i.e. the 26 Type B2 sashes indicated in north and south fronts in the early 18th century engravings, plus at least 32 Type A2 sashes. Whatever the case may have been this entry alone suggests a substantial refenestration programme. There are no further references the replacement of windows on anything like this scale for the London property amongst the Montagu Papers.

93 Batten, op. cit., p. 96. There are a number of topographical views by Sutton Nicholls in the Pepys Collection at Magdalene College, Cambridge, including a signed engraving of the north front of Kensington House reliably datable to 1690 (Wren Society, plate on page 241), which is the closest in style to the view of Montagu House, but there is no proven connexion. Dr. Luckett, Pepys Librarian, regards the latter drawing to be pre-1686.

94 Robinson & Adams, Diary, p. 443.

95 For Ramsbury see, Louw, H. J., ‘New Light on Ramsbury’, Architectural History, 30 (1987), pp. 4549 . Judging from Kip’s engraving of Ragley, c. 1698, the house had Type B2 sashes throughout.

96 Montagu Papers, vol. 1, fols. 82-123. There is a reference at the end of Davis’s account to ‘The Ballance of a former Account stated by Mr Dezeis before the Year 1691’ (fol. 123).

97 Ibid., vol. 1, fol. 241: Phil Harris, locksmith’s account dated January 1688/9, for ‘work delivered at Montagu House to go to Boughton …. For 40 brass buttons for Sashes’.

98 Ibid., vol. 1, fols. 82-88. The reference to work on the wainscot in the King’s Chamber in July 1694 is on fol. 84.

99 Ibid., vol. 1, fol. 459.

100 Ibid., vol. 2, fol. 954. 101 Ibid., vol. 1, fol. 88.

102 Ibid., vol. 1, fol. 98.

103 Ibid., vol. 1, fols 90, 98.

104 J. Cornforh, ‘Boughton House’, Country Life, 10 September 1970, p. 626.

105 Montagu Papers, vol. 2, fol. 693.

106 Ibid., vol. 2, fol. 645.

107 Ibid., vol. 1, fols. 177-79.

108 Ibid., Cat. 100, According to a note attached to an Inventory dated 1735.

109 F. Thompson, A History of Chatsworth, (1949), p. 19.

110 On this see J. Cornforth, ‘Lyme Park, Cheshire’, Country Life, 12 December 1974, pp. 1858-61. This work included new Type B2 sash-windows installed c. 1678-80 by a joiner named Wilkins — possibly the John Wilkins who, with William Cleare, installed the sash-windows in Sir Robert Howard’s apartments at Westminster, September 1673 to December 1674 (Works 5/25). A letter by Legh of 1678, quoted by Lady Newton in her The House of Lyme (1917, p. 277), complained about the cost of these: ‘Wilkins asketh 4s a yard for workmanship of plain wainscot and I find meat, and 25 a foot for Shass windows, that is 18s a square yard and he find timber, which you know is noe great matter’. Some of these sash-windows are shown in a painting of c. 1690 of the north front of Lyme park, and in an extant design of c. 1680 for a new parlour (Country Life, art. cit., Figs 2 and 6 ). At Chatsworth the joiner, John Hallam, was paid in 1698 for taking the glasse ‘out of the old sashes and cleaning the rabbits’ (presumably for re-use). Devonshire Papers, Building Accounts Chatsworth, vol. 4, fol. 43. Used by permission of His Grace the Duke of Devonshire. in Devonshire Papers, vol. 2, fol. 6.

112 Ibid., vol. 2, fol. 50.

113 Wren’s ‘Valuation of the Building of Chatsworth’(1692) is published in full in Wren Society XVII (1940), pp.22-39. Alexander Fort’s measurement, dated 25 September 1691, includes the carpenters’ work and woodcarving on the interior but only about ;£60 worth of joinery done by Hallam, with no reference at all to the sash-windows for the south front, which we know from the records to have been on the site since September 1689 (see above note 112). It is possible that this may have been regarded as a separate contract, like the windowglass. Only the stonework was comprehensively valued.

114 Devonshire Papers, vol. 2, fols 89, 97E, 102.

115 Ibid., vol. 3, fol. 18.

116 Wren Society IV: 32; VII: 177. For period 1689-91.

117 Devonshire Papers, vol. 3, fol. 44.

118 Ibid., vol. 3, fols 36, 42, 57, 73. Jensen (Johnson) the glazier’s total bill for glazing the east wing, when it was finally closed on 29 July 1698, came to £400 (Ibid., vol. i, fol. 148). He had previously been paid £300 for window glass provided for the south wing up to March 1691 (Ibid., vol. 2, fols 58, 78).

119 Ibid., vol. 3, fol. 42.

120 C. Morris,(ed.), The Journeys of Celia Viennes, (1949), pp. 98–100. Celia Fiennes, who had an exceptionally acute eye for architectural detail, gave a useful picture of the progress of the sash-window in England between 1685 and 1703.

121 Devonshire Papers, vol. 2, fol. 97E.

122 Ibid., vol. 4, fols 12, 20, 25, 29, 35.

123 That is, according to the contract with David Brand, carpenter of the Minories, London, dated 3 March 1698, quoted in Journal of the Warburg & Courtaula Institutes, XVIII (1955), p. 131 n. 1. It stipulates that the sash-windows were made ‘in such a manner as the Princess’ sashes are hung in the ball-room at St James Palace’.

124 Devonshire Papers, vol. 7, fols 89, 94. The final design for the west front, undated and unsigned, has survived in the Chatsworth Archives. It shows the pattern for the fenestration (at all levels in one bay) which corresponds with the present arrangement. See Wren Society, XVII, plate XXXIII.

125 Blenheim Accounts, British Library, Add. MSS. 19591-19604.

126 Ibid., 19598, fol. 37: Bill Edward Strong, September 1711.

127 Ibid., 19596, fol. 12.

128 Ibid., 19595, fols 61b, 118.

129 Ibid., 19591, fols 100-01. Register of Warrants & Contracts 1705-09. Hopson was paid according to these rates for work done on the east wing in April 1710 (19597, fols 35b, 36, 36b).

130 Ibid., 19594, fol. 77.

131 Ibid., 19596, fol. 126.

132 Ibid., 19595, fols 134-35.

133 Ibid., fols. 34b, 58b.

134 Ibid., fols. 123b, 124.

135 Ibid., vol. 19595, fol. 123b. Smallwell was paid for making a special case for transporting this window from London, as well as for paper sashes for Gibbons’s workshop on site. The carving of windows is not specifically mentioned in the accounts, other than a provision made by Vanbrugh for such work on the windows of the saloon in 1714, which was never executed (D. Green, Blenheim Palace, 1951, pp. 86, 247). Since Gibbons was responsible for carving the large sash-windows for St.Paul’s organ cases, made by Charles Hopson between July and September 1697 (Wren Society XV pp. 32-33), it can be safely assumed that it was he who carved the Blenheim windows as well. Some of these still survive in the duke’s private apartments.

136 Blenheim Accounts, 19596, fol. 126; 19597, fol. 47b; 19598, fol. 21.

137 Ibid., 19596, fol. 127b.

138 Ibid., 19596, fol. 126b; 19597, fols. 87b, 116.

139 Ibid., 19597, fol. 106.

140 Ibid., 19591, fol. 114.

141 Ibid., 19596, fol.131; 19597, fol. 13b.

142 Ibid., 19598, fol. 87.

143 Ibid., fol. 77.

144 Ibid., fol. 91.

145 Quoted in Green, Blenheim, pp. 264-65.

146 Ibid., p. 286.

147 Louw, Ancient Rights’, pp. 96-97, 108-11.

148 Wentworth Woodhouse Muniments, Bright Papers, Sheffield City Archives, Cat. No. WWM: BR, 177(9). Drawing of the west front of Newton Hall, Co. Durham c. 1717. I am indebted to Mr Martin Roberts of Durham City Council Architects’ Department for information on this archive.

149 Bright Papers, BR 173 (4-11).

150 Ibid., BR 173 (9).

151 Ibid., BR 173 (7).

152 Ibid., BR 173 (5).

153 Ibid., BR 173 (4).

154 Ibid., BR 173 (8).

155 Ibid., BR 177 (6). Building account for Newton Hall tided, ‘Newton November 5th 1717’. The drawing (WWM Add. Report Cabinet A Drawer 7), is neither dated nor signed.

156 Bright Papers, BR 173 (6).

157 Ibid., BR 173 (11).

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A constructional history of the sash-window c. 1670–c.1725:: Part One: Industrial Organization

  • Hentie Louw and Robert Crayford


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